By Kevin Collison
A proposed $30 million extension of the downtown streetcar to the Berkley Riverfront could substantially boost development opportunities and allow people to live and visit there without cars, according to the leader of Port KC.
And Port KC, which receives a big part of its revenues from a long-term lease agreement with the Isle of Capri casino, plans to find ways to help fund the streetcar expansion “with or without” federal funding.
Currently, the Kansas City Streetcar Authority is pursuing a financing plan for the proposed streetcar extension where about half the funding would be sought from a so-called TIGER grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The other half is projected to come from Port KC, but that share could expand if Washington’s participation fails to meet expectations, said Michael Collins, president and CEO of Port KC, formerly the Port Authority of Kansas City.
“We will be creating multiple scenarios with or without federal dollars to make this a priority, a high priority,” he said.
Port KC believes streetcar access would increase number of planned apartments that could be developed on Port KC riverfront property by up to 40 percent, from 1,500 units to 2,000 or 2,100 units. There is currently a 410-unit apartment development being built there by Flaherty & Collins.
Collins also said streetcar service could allow taller projects than the four-story Union project being done by Flaherty & Collins, and more commercial uses.
“We want to increase density and we want it to be very walkable so you don’t feel a need to have a car to go to the Berkley Riverfront,” Collins said.
Last week, Port KC provided $300,000 to allow the Streetcar Authority to move forward with the next step of planning for an extension. A team led by Burns & McDonnell was selected to conduct the next phase of planning.
At the same time, the downtown streetcar route, which opened in May 2016, also served its 3 millionth rider, exceeding expectations.
The proposed streetcar extension would begin at the intersection of Third and Grand and utilize the existing Grand Boulevard viaduct to bring the route to a “stub stop” in the middle of riverfront property controlled by Port KC. The authority revealed an flyover video to illustrate its plans.
“We have a great opportunity to reconnect our riverfront,” said Tom Gerend, executive director of the Streetcar Authority. “It’s a very short distance from our existing route to the north and there will be big benefits from a transportation basis.”
Collins said the Port KC currently has identified 82 acres of developable property in addition to the site of the $74 million Union apartment complex being built by Flaherty & Collins. Last summer, the agency revealed its strategic vision for the area.
He said since the prospect of the streetcar being extended to the area was announced, his agency has received increased interest from developers, both local and beyond.